CBR News and Comics2Film recently caught up with “Daredevil’ writer/director Mark Steven Johnson at the Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention for an exclusive interview about the film. In part one of our interview, Johnson talked about translating superhero costumes to the big screen. In this installment he discusses bringing the action to life. Johnson told us that although the movie features fantastic characters, his thematic touchstone was realism.
“That’s kind of the theme of the whole movie is, what would it really do to you physically and mentally to go out night after night and fight crime? What would that really be like,” asked Johnson.
“Not that there’s a right or wrong to this. There are comic movies that can go way over the top and it works and they’re a lot of fun,” Johnson explained. “I wanted this to be primarily a martial arts based, practical street-fighting-type based film. There is wire work and there is digital character work. All that is in the movie. At its core it’s still about a really tough guy kicking ass. That was what what it always came down to.”
Of course, where there’s action, there’s violence.
“Daredevil…gets his ass kicked a lot in the movie. I think that’s cool! You know what I mean? Because anybody that gets hit fifty times in a Hong Kong movie and they’re fine, there’s always this like BOP-BOP-BOP-BOP-BOP and then there’s that one BOP and a guy goes flying and it’s like, what was so special about that one and why didn’t you do that sooner, dude? What have you been doing this for?
“So in ‘Daredevil’ I really wanted to show repercussions to the violence. When Daredevil gets beaten up you see what it’s doing to his body. He’s pulling a tooth out of his mouth, like in ‘Ninja Scroll,’ which kind of inspired that scene, or the pain pills and the knee surgery and the back scars. It’s like, wow, this guy’s only thirty years old and literally his body’s falling apart!
“I think that’s really interesting. So I really wanted to show that he’s not impervious to pain. That when there’s a fight, he also gets hurt.”
Does the Man Without Fear have an even lower tolerance for pain than you or I would?
“The truth is when somebody punches you in the face it hurts. You don’t just shake it off that quickly. Especially if you’re a guy with sensitive touch, it would hurt more than it would for anybody, which I think is a really interesting thought, too. That’s how brave he is. If he could feel newsprint on a newspaper, his touch is that fine. Imagine what happens when he cracks a bone or gets punched and loses a tooth. I bet it’s excruciating. That to me is really heroic.”
One of the challenges Johnson faced was in coming up with a compelling take on super-hero action in this post-“Matrix,” post-“Spider-Man” world of film.
“Like everyone else I’m a huge fan of ‘The Matrix.’ In the movies coming out this next year there’s ‘The Matrix’ and then there’s everything else. I can’t wait to see it. I think it’s truly genius.” Johnson enthused. “I think because the movie’s so recent, I think people are reticent to say that it’s one of the best films ever made. They think that’s just geeks talking. It’s not. As a geek, as well as a regular movie fan, I think it is one of the best films truly ever made and it’ll go down as probably the best science fiction film ever made, or whatever you want to call it, action film, fantasy film. So for us, there’s always that weight of what do you do after ‘Matrix?’ What do you do after ‘Spider-Man?’ When the bar has been raised so high, how are you going to make yourself unique? We had to say what can we give people that’s different?
“For me that was to really try to make a movie that has a lot of heart to it and a lot of emotion, which you usually don’t get with a superhero movie,” said Johnson. “I thought [Director Sam Raimi] did a great job of that with ‘Spider-Man.’ You really liked Peter Parker. You really cared about him and I wanted to show that.”
While “Spider-Man” may make the production of a superhero movie now seem daunting, Johnson also admits that it raised the profile of his movie.
“This movie was always supposed to be an under-the-radar kind of movie. We had six million dollars for visual effects. ‘Spider-Man’ had over fifty million. They’re a whole different league from us. Everybody was just anticipating, ‘if we do well, maybe we can make as much money as ‘Blade.” That was always the feeling. If this movie makes seventy million, eighty million, that would be great.
“Then the expectations began to grow and now we’re not under the radar anymore. We’re starting to build this as like this event type of film, which is exciting, but it’s also a little scary because this movie is not ‘Spider-Man.’ It is a darker movie. It is a grittier movie.”
“I wanted to show like, instead of ‘golly gee, how great to be a superhero,’ I wanted to show the dark side of being a superhero. That was really appealing to me to show something different,” continued Johnson. “It’s easy being Daredevil, it’s hard being Matt Murdock. It’s tough to live the life he leads. It’s a very lonely life.
“It’s a cool movie, but if people go in expecting ‘Spider-Man’ they’ll be disappointed because that was never the intention of this film”
Of course, strong, human characterizations are the hallmark of Marvel superheroes. What other tricks will Daredevil employ to wow audiences?
“Visually we wanted to show the way he sees his radar vision. That was something you’d never seen before. The idea of seeing sound waves as they go over objects and illuminate them. That, to me is fresh and cool. That’s been kind of the bane of my existence in the past year, developing that and going, ‘That’s not it, that’s not right,’ and going back to the drawing board over and over and over. That was our chance to show something you’ve never seen.”
With all the gritty realism and depiction of the cost of fighting crime, Johnson was challenged to bring in a movie at the pre-designated rating of PG-13.
“I just went through the MPAA rounds and ‘Daredevil’ got an R. I had to deliver a PG-13 contractually. So I made some cuts and some trims and I went back again and I got an R again. Then I had to go back and make some cuts again, so I’m not at a R,” Johnson explained.
“I don’t know if they quite know how to take it. It’s a guy who dresses up and he’s a hero. It’s a no-brainer. That’s a kid’s movie. But it’s not, necessarily,” Johnson said. “Kid’s can go, definitely, but it’s also a movie for adults. It’s also a more realistic, hard-core action movie, and a very emotional movie.
“There’s always that balance.”
Look for more from our conversation with Mark Steven Johnson right here on Saturday afternoon as the director talks about casting, cartoons and the wonderful world of comic book movies.
Comics2Film correspondent Jason Lethert contributed to this story.